Luther on the Christian Life (5)

In chapter five, entitled “Living by the Word,” Trueman moves from Luther’s understanding of the worship of the church to his view of the day-to-day Christian life. Here the reader is given insight into Luther’s understanding of how the Christian life is lived out in the “normal” daily life of the ordinary believer. It has already been pointed out that Luther’s view of the Christian life is ecclesiastical. That is, the church is front and center in the Christian life. The church is the hub around which all of activities of the Christian’s spiritual life revolve. The main exercise of Christian devotion is the worship of God from Sabbath to Sabbath. The main way the Christian “lives by the Word” is by regularly sitting under the preaching of the Gospel. This is an important point for our day. Today there are many who view the Christian life as a personal matter. Going to church is a nice thing to do if you’re into that kind of thing or if you find it spiritually uplifting, but it is certainly not necessary. Sadly, many Protestants promote this view-a view that Luther would have strongly condemned.

For Luther, the Christian life has its beating heart in the worship of the church gathered together as a body. The Christian cannot have a healthy spiritual life if he or she is removed from the church. The reasons for this are clear. The official preaching of the Gospel is God’s ordained means of grace, not one’s small group discussions. The preaching of the Gospel and the Sacraments are the means God has chosen to use to nourish and strengthen His people. To try to live without them is like trying to live without food. Luther’s point is not that private devotions are unimportant, not at all. But the personal Christian life flows out of the corporate Christian life which the individual believer shares with his or her fellow saints in the church. We are members of a body, not isolated individuals doing our own thing. That being said, Luther certainly recognized the importance of the Christian’s private devotional life. In particular, Luther drew his teaching in this area from the psalms. In the psalms he saw the entirety of Christian experience set forth and given beautiful expression. Every Christian ought to be constant in personal prayers. The Psalms are our guide here.

Finally, one of the striking aspects of Luther’s view of the Christian life that Truman highlights is how routine it is. Today too many Christians are obsessed with the extraordinary and the novel. They equate “spiritual” with “exciting” and “out of the ordinary.” That which is routine, regular, and ordinary is despised and even called “false” piety. The Christian life is popularly recast in terms of social and political activism. There must be revival! There must be impressive results! But we find nothing of these contemporary ideas in Luther’s view of the Christian life. The Christian life is, for the most part, really quite ordinary. It is marked by the regular use of the means of grace, the regular discipline of prayer, the regular worship of the assembled church. These things, done from the heart, are in Luther’s view, the chief exercises of the Christian life.

Justin Smidstra

One thought on “Luther on the Christian Life (5)

  1. Thanks SO much for such a thoughtful, insightful article! Especially in these days, many who claim to be Christian despise the preaching, thinking they can get spiritual food by “communing with God in nature”, thus a walk in the woods or a day at the beach seems just as fine as attending the worship service. Thanks for putting in such straightforward terms how this cannot be true. “The preaching of the Gospel and the Sacraments are the means God has chosen to use to nourish and strengthen His people. To try to live without them is like trying to live without food. Luther’s point is not that private devotions are unimportant, not at all. But the personal Christian life flows out of the corporate Christian life which the individual believer shares with his or her fellow saints in the church. We are members of a body, not isolated individuals doing our own thing”.

    May the Lord bless you in your studies and as he uses you as a witness in this forum.

    Like

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